Tag Archives: Books

Risky Business by Jamie MacAlister

This book, written by a teacher at Hult International Business School and Ashridge Executive Education, seeks to identify how senior executives should develop a corporate strategy to deal with risk. So far, so worthy.

The first problem is to embrace what constitutes a corporate strategy. While the purpose of companies is pretty clear (to increase shareholder wealth), how to go about this is less so. For small businesses and many not so small businesses it is simple – sell more stuff to more customers, ideally at an increased margin. Achieving this can be very demanding, but that is the realm of tactics not strategy. Larger businesses, probably dealing with multiple products in multiple markets, must decide whether to invest and, if so, where. That decision is broadly called strategy and that is where this book is aimed.

The second thread, risk, is intended to be part of this. Clearly corporations that take a long time to develop strategy face the problem of the market places moving during their consideration of options, rendering the underlying assumptions questionable. Overlaid upon this are the risks of singular events, be they catastrophes, emergence of new technologies or loss of key contracts which again can dramatically alter the market.

Unfortunately for the reader the book never really pins down definitions of either. Instead it cites the hoary old chestnuts of Apple (Steve Jobs is a saint according to some business gurus), Proctor and Gamble (a company so large that it can borrow cheaper than most governments, and as such far from typical of the companies that most will work in), the inevitable bit of Sun Tzu and Clausewitz (taken out of context) and Napoleon.

To this the author adds a trite classification of business leaders into “tigers” or “elephants.” He goes on to develop a psychometric classification process that is as rich in catch phrases and jargon as it is devoid of insight, unless you consider sentences like “Good strategy means being choiceful about taking risk – its about taking the right risk” as anything more than a badly written statement of the obvious. (No, “choiceful” is not a word in my spell checker or any dictionary that I can find). And so it goes on. And on. And on.

The text is peppered with quotes from other business authors (many of them also from Ashbridge) which lead the author to also develop a theory of Creative Juxtaposition, whatever that means. Almost all the case studies I had read before, in more depth and with better explanatory context. Jargon aside, there is nothing new in this book, as the author actually admits in the penultimate paragraph. The cobbling together of other people’s ideas is neither compelling, necessary nor instructive. If this book is representative of Ashbridge – and that seems to be the intent – then it’s a spectacular own goal.

On the ARRSE site (where this review first appeared – it is reposted here with their kind permission) i had to rate it 1/5 as ARRSE has no facility for giving a rating lower than that.  On this blog there is no such problem.  It scores a big fat zero.

Book Review: Deep Sea Hunters by Martin W. Bowman

My review of this book was originally posted on ARRSE (www.arrse.co.uk) and appears here with their kind permission.

One of the major British concerns during the Second World War was maintaining sufficient imports of food and materiel for the population to avoid starvation and be able to fight.  The German U Boat campaign threatened to win the war.  Its ultimate failure to do so was caused by a combination of improving convoy escorts and in particular improved airborne anti-submarine warfare.  This book seeks to tell the story of the latter.

It should be a rich tale.  The crews were routinely flying long endurance missions (often over 15 hours), sweeping their search area at low level.  If they spotted a surfaced U Boat they had to be able to deliver their ordnance before the U Boat crash dived, and that required flying straight at the target and over it.  Never easy, buy the end of the war U Boats had an armament equivalent to that of a ZSU 23-4.  Few modern combat pilots would relish the prospect of taking that on in a plane the size of a Hercules, but slower.

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BOOK REVIEW – The Somme Campaign by Andrew Rawson

This review originally appeared on the Army Rumour Site (www.arrse.co.uk) and is reproduced with their kind permission.

The average reader of this blog is probably familiar with the First World War and may well ask whether the centenary of its start is cause enough for another book on the Somme Campaign of 1916.  The author, who has written many military books, asks the same question in the introduction and answers it.  This book is a comprehensive, chronological record of how and where the British Army fought during the 142 days.   It was worth writing, and is certainly well worth reading.

The book eschews commentary, discussion of the intriguing relationships between the commanders and the German view and experience.  Instead it produces a dry, unequivocal record of who did what, why and when.  The author has also avoided the common trap of wallowing in the (appalling) casualty rolls.  The result is a crisp, authoritative and clear text.

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BookReview: The Kaiser’s Captive by Albert Rhys Williams

This Review was posted on the Army Rumour Service Site http://www.arrse.co.uk and is reposted here with their kind consent

This book, which was first published in America in 1917, describes the experiences of a 30 year old American in the opening days of the First World War.  It has been reprinted to coincide with the centenary.

Born and educated as a minister in America, with spells at university in England and Germany, the author found himself on the German side of the front during the battles of the Meuse.  He spent much time on his feet observing the German advance through Belgium and the reactions of the locals.  Much of the book comprises vignettes, some of which are quite charming.  He is, rightly, full of admiration for the stoic resilience of Belgian peasant farmers and disgust at the destruction of a neutral country.

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ARRSE REVIEW of My Book: The Dangerous World of Tommy Atkins

The author, an ex British Army Officer, has produced a much needed guide to what today’s soldier faces on the battlefield. Drawing on twelve years experience, including two as an Officer Cadet Instructor at Sandhurst, he has written a jargon-free book with humour, a dash of irony and some gentle sarcasm.

This is not a training manual, but is for those with an interest in land warfare but with no military experience. It is eminently readable and provides a valuable insight into what “Tommy Atkins” faces when sent to war. Rather than the simplistic Hollywood portrayal of good versus evil with obvious heroes and villains the reader quickly comes to realize the complex nature of modern war-fighting, the technology available, the necessity of logistic back up and the pressure of having to make split second decisions which may be questioned in the comfort of a committee room many months later.

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Television has given us unprecedented access to a whole range of “fly on the wall” programmes following recruits through training as well as “embedding” reporters with units in the field. Similarly, many service personnel have written excellent accounts of their time on the front line. These are all valuable and welcome additions to our understanding of modern day warfare but, are of necessity, written largely from one persons perspective.

This book aims to fill the gap between an individual’s personal experience and large unit operations. It enables the reader to better understand the part played by the smallest effective unit on the battlefield, the fire-team (with four members) or the section(two fire teams).

Wasting no time, after a quick introduction to “Tommy Atkins”, we are off for a short walk in the countryside. This is often the soldiers workplace for as the author observes “land warfare is about ground and who controls it”. In such an apparently benign environment only bulls, barbed-wire and irate farmers are the hazards faced by the public. However, we soon realize that moving and fighting in such an environment requires an entirely different mind and skill set other-wise life expectancy is reduced to minutes or even seconds!

We are reminded that “Everything in war is simple, but even the simplest thing is very difficult” – von Clauswitz. This maxim is as relevant today as it was when first expounded and the reader soon comes to appreciate the difficulties facing today’s soldier.
Every job has its tools of the trade as well as particular ways of doing things. For “Tommy” this translates into weapons and tactics. These are described in simple, straightforward terms easily understood by the lay-person. This sets the tone for the rest of the book where we are introduced to other “players” on the battlefield along with a wide range of assets and resources that can be called upon or incorporated with “Tommy” in the fighting to improve the chances not only of his success but also of his survival.

By the final page the reader will be far better informed about the requirements, equipment and capabilities of our troops as they are sent on yet another “foreign adventure” following the failure of the politicians to find a solution. In fact, this book should be required reading for politicians and journalists whose knowledge and expectations of our soldiers can at times be profoundly naïve.

5 out of 5.


(This review originally appeared on http://www.arrse.co.uk and is reposted here with their kind consent)

I’m not convinced that the title accurately conveys what this book is about; it’s actually a history of the air to air combat elements of the Luftwaffe from its furtive foundation in March 1935 to its demise with the German collapse in 1945. It focuses primarily on the careers and experiences of the top German aces, or Experten, within a broad historical context but is not a series of biographies.

Peter Jacobs writes well and as he is an ex-RAF Phantom and Tornado F3 air defence navigator he has a deep understanding of air to air warfare. Unfortunately this only shows through occasionally – when it does it is invigorating, informative and helpful. The remainder of the book is a fairly dry account of how the German Experten amassed their incredible individual tallies of air to air kills, interspersed with irritatingly frequent references to the various accoutrements that they earned to their Knight’s Crosses.

It’s a shame, as one of the fascinating questions about the air combat of the Second World War is how and why individual German pilots were so successful. As Jacobs records, 15 of their pilots achieved over 200 kills, with the 22 year old Erich Hartmann shooting down 352 enemy aircraft and surviving. He remains the most successful fighter pilot of all time. A further 91 Experten scored over 100 kills. By comparison the top British ace scored 47 and the top US ace 40. The book does not directly answer this. The indirect answers, which do emerge, were that the Luftwaffe operated for most of the war in a target rich environment with good (or better) equipment and more experienced pilots.

There is little description of actual engagements and no consideration of the psychological effects of remorseless, unending combat punctuated with trips to Berlin to collect the latest medal upgrade. A discussion of the impact of the succession of honours and a comparison with the British system of duplicate awards (bars) would have been interesting and Jacobs is well placed to conduct it. But he didn’t.

The pictures show the usual smiling young men, aged beyond their years and don’t add to the narrative. There is little description of aircraft, so those who didn’t spend their youth making Airfix models of Sturmoviks, Pe-2s and Yak 9s are going to struggle.

The book is a competent history of the pilots of Luftwaffe fighter branch. But it could have been so much more, so much better and so more interesting. 3 out of 5